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Volunteers come from many different backgrounds and bring with them a myriad of life’s experiences.  You find them in Hospitals, supporting key community services, for example Meals on Wheels, Charities, RSPCA, Society for the Blind. The list is endless and each and every volunteer make their mark and create win:win situations for the organizations they support.

During my career I have experienced volunteering from both sides of the fence. Supervising in the administrative department of a South Australian Hospital, where the lady concerned significantly contributed to the many mini projects she was involved with. On her part, she enjoyed the interaction and friendships she built over many years, and from the hospital’s perspective, she was valued for her willingness to get involved.

Another side to my experience was many moons ago when my family and I were travelling around Australia moving from one construction site to another. We would land up staying anywhere between 9 – 18 months in any one location. This made it impossible to secure a part time job for such a short stay, as employers were not keen to take on the wife of an itinerant worker.

As the children were at school, I needed to use my time to the benefit of the community in some way, as you can only make so many arts and crafts. I decided to go down to the local community centre to see what I could do. In my mind of was thinking of reading to the ‘old folk’. So I sauntered in bold as brass and said “Is there something I could do that would be of assistance?” I wasn’t prepared for the answer. Oh yes, we need someone in the kitchen to assist with preparing the lunches for meals on wheels. Well I couldn’t say “No that’s not for me” now could I. So I agreed and turned up the next day.

My thoughts were of peeling endless potatoes and doing dishes, however I was delighted to find that there was actually a machine that peeled the potatoes, and dishwashing machines for the dishes.

I spent 9 months helping out, and got to know the kitchen ‘helpers’ extremely well. We were a happy group, led by a wonderful Italian lady, who knew how to turn out beautiful meals and kept us all on the right track so that we met the lunchtime deadlines. When you are travelling, you tend not to mix with the community very much, you tend to socialize more with the other itinerant families, so that when the head lady asked me to come to lunch at her place, bringing the children with me one Saturday afternoon, it was a very special afternoon and one that I treasured.

Volunteering is an amazing past time. It allows you to be involved in activities that would not normally come your way. You meet a myriad of people you wouldn’t normally get to meet, which broadens your life experiences as you learn new skills, even if that is just serving a bowl of soup, without dropping it or having the contents precariously cascade over the edge of the bowl.

My greatest experience of being a volunteer though has come from my long involvement with AIOP (previously IPSA). I joined in 1992 and went onto the Committee of Management soon after. I never would have thought that this initial action would have led me in 2011 to become National President. What a journey this has been. I have met so many talented people and probably reinvented myself along the way, from being quite an introvert to actually being able to present at seminars and conferences. I am also Chair of the National Board, which has meant that I not only have to be conversant with everything AIOP, I also have to be a strong Leader. I acknowledge that without my participation in AIOP, I would never have had the courage of my convictions to see myself in such a role.

In discussions recently I heard the following phrase, and it speaks a thousand words in its message, “The passion will always be there, but sometimes our resources keep us in a holding pattern”. Volunteers are people too, with all the pressures of work and family commitments and are often time poor. They give of themselves to the point where sometimes they have to reevaluate what is possible for them at any given time. Tenure of appointment on Committees of Management are anything from 2 – 3 years, however some committee members stay on for many more years than that. Wouldn’t it be the most wonderful thing if there were more members volunteering their time, so that after the 3 years of ‘giving’, sitting committee members could hand over their knowledge to the ‘new blood’ coming into the organization. Often Committee members, although leaving the structure of the committee, are willing to continue offering support by mentoring, or assisting for a period of transition.

With new blood comes new ideas and this can also be invaluable as we are looking to continue to be relevant in the fast paced world of technology.

So, if you feel you have the passion for AIOP then take the first step and approach your Divisional President. Ask to meet for a coffee so that you get to hear what is going on in your area. Let them know your background and what you feel you have to offer. This could be the beginnings of something wonderful, not only for the Institute, but for yourself, as you never know where this step will take you. Celebrating our 50th Anniversary in 2013, and that is all down to the hundreds of volunteers who know that they have contributed to something very special. How powerful is that?

Catherine Middleton (FAIOP) Immediate Past National President

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